How to avoid temper tantrums; 12 ways to redirect children


How to avoid temper tantrums is probably a bit of an ambitious title – after all tantrums are normal, expected and part of growing up.  We don’t want to rid our lives of them, it’s great that our children feel that they can express themselves… well sort of great.  This article is more about having a couple less temper tantrums in our lives…

Saying what you see often seems to roll off the tongue easiest at times of parental stress.  Especially when you’re tired, hungry or in need of head space (or all three….).

The crazy climbing, sibling arguments, bedtime craziness, general misdemeanors; “stop” and “don’t” are all too often my go to phrases atm.  Not surprising really, it is instinctive and when you’re tired instincts win!

As a teacher I was so much better at redirection.  But I used to get more sleep back then!  And its so much easier with other people’s children.

Anyway, a man on a train with his American accent and crazy tales, reminded me that I used to be good at redirection and made me realise that I wanted to do it more.  So here I am.

It’s not just your child or mine – promise!   As a teacher I had the pleasure of working with lots of lovely* children that needed gentle redirection.

A Child’s Point of View

To a child whatever we say not to do, can easily become a “to do” instruction.  And that is sooooooo frustrating. You can end up confirming what they’re doing and what they think they want to do.  This can mean the heels really dig in and we are in a temper tantrum danger zone!

Sometimes it is like children haven’t worked out what they’re doing until you tell them to stop! In the wrong frame of mind, they don’t stop, they just do it some more!! We say “don’t” they hear “do”; we say “stop”, they hear “start”.

I used to think that being a teacher was the best job in the world.  The hardest.  But the best.  Now its definitely been usurped by being a parent (on both counts!).  But it is even harder!  After all, you don’t get to go home to analyse, recharge and regroup as a parent. It is relentless.

Back then it was so much easier to offer level, calm redirection.  After all I just planned finite, relatively short periods of times.  Obviously I would still sometimes feel like I’d fallen short and that would make me sad. (I sound like Bing 😂🤭. Wish I was more like Flop.).

But we have got this!  Here is how to get your child to do what you need them to do while avoiding temper tantrums.

While they’re fathoming out how to separate what they hear, from what they think and do, we can avoid reinforcing the negatives.  And we can make the positives seem so much more appealing.

Say what you don’t see - redirecting children
Toddler playing peekaboo; say what you don’t see

Below follows a list, compiled with some help from books read, google (both referenced below) and a search into the corners of my mind.

Essentially you can let your imagination run wild whilst directing them to what you want them to do.

I am always looking for more tools for my parent tool kit (🤷‍♀️) so please share your tips in the comments below:

Redirecting Children – how to avoid temper tantrums

  • praise / compliment – you are really good at… why don’t you…
  • understand and help them articulate** – helping them put feelings into words whilst acknowledging their upset/anger/frustration can really help. “I can see that you’re really disappointed that all of the strawberries have gone” might be all that is needed.  Unless no strawberries were involved, in which case move this to the distraction section.
  • an alternative – I love it when you’re both happy, have you thought about playing…
  • a subtle challenge – “Can you wriggle into your seatbelt in one go / manoeuvre?” “Can you balance the soap dispenser on the side of the sink?” These have both worked for me today.  Happily writing this blog post has improved my focus on the positives….for now….reminders will be needed! My favourite example….

My 18 month old loves destroying my hard work! She will go from a reluctant bather to a jumper inner (if I let her!) if there’s a tower to knock down. Same on the way out – just watch out as it does make the bathroom floor slippy.

This has saved lots of tears and stress in our house 😀

How to avoid temper tantrums – read on for nine more ideas…

  • the crazy tale – “please leave those sticks there, the bears will come after dark as they need them for their dens.”  Don’t like fibbing? “Oooooh shhhshhh, I can hear pixies.”
  • time to chill – let’s have some time doing our own thing….
  • feeling useful – can anyone help me to….
  • over-enthusiasm – sometimes being the opposite of what you see is enough to neutralise things.  I can only do this on days when I’ve slept and eaten well.  “I’m really excited about playing….can anyone play with me?….PLEASE!!!! Waaaaaaa! Don’t make me cry!!!!!!”
  • distraction – Feel my wet coat from the rain…can you see the bird that’s singing?
  • promoting the positives** (and how it made them feel when they got it right) – talk about how well they did x, y and z.
  • bribes – sometimes I bribe the children.  Crikey, sometimes I bribe myself.  I try and make sure that I tell them that we can’t always bend whatever rule we are bending.
  • striking a bargain – my friend swears by encouraging her children to bargain/trade with each other (rather than just share) to resolve some disagreements.
  • slippy shoulders – you don’t have to be the referee. It’s okay to tell them that they need to sort it.*** That they can sort it; they’re capable.

Final Ramblings on how to avoid temper tantrums

Throwing in some more praise whenever you can rarely hurts!  Try and make sure you have evidence to back up your praise – Little Stars or Message in a Bottle both provide easy ways of building a positive evidence bank!

What we say and do depends on so much; where you are, what has been happening, the time of day, you and your child.  Although the calm (but sometimes excited!) happy and confident way that you say whatever you say, can often be the same.  You’ve got an idea and it’s a good one.  Your idea will bring happiness.  Your idea can be the biggest in the room; things can change.  A bit of self belief goes a long way!

And sometimes you just need to yell “Stop that” to avoid danger.  Sometimes “Don’t do that, what are you thinking?!” just pops out 😳😖. And that’s okay too.

Here is the mess when my biggest two decided to decorate the conservatory with some straw. For fun. Not much redirection went on here, just a bit of ranting 😬.

I’m not claiming to be an expert and sadly I’m not a perfect parent – I think these things happen before you have kids or when the rose tinted glasses come on 😂😜. But I do want to be part of a team; parents are stronger together 💪 I really hope some temper tantrums are avoided and it’d be brilliant if you had time to comment any ideas below.

Over the years I’ve found that the more other stuff and tactics that you can mix in, the happier you’ll be. The happier you’ll all be. And the more shock factor you’ll have when you do need to yell “Stop that!”.

*all kids are lovely!

**I got some great reminders for positive redirection from . Although we have a different take on bribes!

***I’m pretty sure this gem came from “Siblings No Rivalry” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.

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